In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers have continued to reshape their rosters in hopes of not just winning the conference, but of having a chance in the N.B.A. finals against the dominant Golden State Warriors or the league’s two new superteams in Houston and Oklahoma City. The teams are listed in their predicted order of finish within their divisions. (The Western Conference preview can be found here.)
59-23 last year
Key newcomers: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum (draft), Marcus Morris
Key departures: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley
Outlook: Saying the Celtics added Irving and Hayward to a team that earned the East’s No. 1 seed last season is misleading in two ways. Boston’s top seeding was aided immensely by the complacency of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and a hefty portion of last year’s Celtics roster was jettisoned to make this new group a reality.
Danny Ainge will not win any karma contests after rewarding Thomas’s loyalty and sacrifice with a one-way ticket out of town, and the combination of Bradley and Crowder will be sorely missed on the defensive end. But when everything is considered, Ainge, known more for asset hoarding than deal-making, has given Coach Brad Stevens one of the league’s three or four most talented rosters.
On paper, this roster seems to be the only one in the Eastern Conference capable of ending LeBron James’s seven-year streak of N.B.A. finals appearances, but he has plenty of motivation to prevent that from happening after Irving forced his way out of Cleveland.
Status: Raised ceiling, lowered floor
51-31 last year
Key newcomers: C.J. Miles, O.G. Anunoby (draft)
Key departures: Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll
Outlook: The Raptors did not do much in terms of adding talent from outside the organization this off-season, but they anted up a combined $165 million to retain Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. Losing Joseph and Patterson hurts, but the Raptors remain a reliable entity: They slow the game down, play reasonably well on both ends of the court, and, in the end, are more suited to regular-season success than to making a dent in the playoffs.
DeMar DeRozan took a huge leap last season, averaging a career-high 27.3 points a game, and has it in him to be the league’s top scorer if he could simply become a competent 3-point shooter. But barring major injuries to the Celtics and the Cavaliers, there is little reason to believe that the Raptors will do much more than make one of the superteams work hard to beat them on their way to the finals.
Status: Same old Raptors
28-54 last season
Key newcomers: J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, Markelle Fultz (draft)
Key departures: Sergio Rodriguez
Outlook: The 76ers have the makings of being the league’s most fun team. Joel Embiid, their 7-foot center, has a personality nearly as big as, well, Joel Embiid, and his embracing of Sam Hinkie’s “trust the process” motto has made a sport out of the team’s roster construction. Embiid and Dario Saric celebrated the arrival of Fultz before the trade to get the rights to draft him was completed, and Redick, a veteran sharpshooter, announced his decision to sign a one-year deal with Philadelphia in a fitting way:
After a 28-win season, it would be wise to exercise a little caution with Philadelphia’s prospects. But the optimism of the 76ers’ rabid fan base is not unfounded when you consider that Embiid missed 51 games last season and the roster will be bolstered immensely by the additions of Fultz, who was the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, and Ben Simmons, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 but missed last season because of an injury.
20-62 last season
Key newcomers: Allen Crabbe, D’Angelo Russell, Timofey Mozgov, DeMarre Carroll, Jarrett Allen (draft)
Key departures: Brook Lopez, Justin Hamilton, Andrew Nicholson
Outlook: The Nets took a great deal of abuse for finishing with the worst record in the N.B.A. and subsequently having to surrender the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to Boston. But through the creativity of General Manager Sean Marks, the Nets added some intriguing talent in Crabbe and Russell, and a decent veteran in Carroll, who came with a 2018 first-round pick as a sweetener.
It requires a leap of faith to believe Crabbe and Russell can reach the heights some project for them, but if they blossom in their new environs, and Jeremy Lin can keep himself healthy, improving by 10 to 15 wins would not be shocking.
New York Knicks
31-51 last season
Key newcomers: Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, Michael Beasley, Ramon Sessions, Jarrett Jack, Doug McDermott, Frank Ntilikina (draft)
Key departures: Carmelo Anthony
Outlook: The most important addition for the Knicks may not be Hardaway or Kanter, but rather Scott Perry, the team’s new general manager. A level-headed executive with a fantastic reputation, Perry has already begun an aggressive rebuild. Fitting with recent Knicks mismanagement history, though, the team dragged its feet in parting ways with Phil Jackson. So when the draft came around, Perry was still in Sacramento, presiding over what is considered to be a very strong class for the Kings.
The Knicks have a problem to solve: their roster is flush with centers and power forwards in an era when nearly every team is trying to get smaller and faster. Kristaps Porzingis is a star, and Hardaway remade himself some in Atlanta, but anyone with a reasonable grasp of recent Knicks history knows that Perry has his work cut out for him. His greatest competitors are most likely not on the court, but in his own team’s executive and ownership suites.
Status: Tall (and not much else)
51-31 last season
Key newcomers: Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon
Key departures: Kyrie Irving
Outlook: If LeBron James came back to Cleveland in hopes of getting a younger group of teammates to pass his talents down to, that plan has officially been scuttled. Irving forced his way out of town because he did not want to be a No. 2 option, and the Cavaliers responded by building a team with a great deal of talent that may been more suited for a championship run five or six years ago.
Cleveland’s starting lineup will be dramatically different, with Kevin Love moving to center and James to power forward. Crowder, Wade and Rose will round out the starters, which pushes J.R. Smith, a surprisingly solid defender and long-distance shooter, to the bench. A serious hip injury to Thomas, father time working hard against several other newcomers, and Love moving to a more taxing position will all make a repeat trip to the finals difficult, but the right time to count out a team led by James is never.
42-40 last season
Key newcomers: Gerald Green, Joel Anthony, D.J. Wilson (draft)
Key departures: None
Outlook: The Bucks will find themselves on countless lists of teams that could break out this season. It has nothing to do with their off-season activity — no offense to Green, who has turned himself into a useful pro — and everything to do with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s limitless potential. The 6-foot-11 forward, who doubles as a point guard, exploded in his fourth season for 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.9 blocks a game. He was a consistent positive on both ends of the court and had an outrageous player efficiency rating of 26.1. Most people around the N.B.A. think he’s just getting started.
Throw in last year’s rookie of the year, Malcolm Brogdon, a (hopefully) full season from Jabari Parker, another year of development for Thon Maker, the consistent hard work of Khris Middleton and Greg Monroe, and you get a team that is fun to watch and could step up as a top contenders without having gone the superteam route.
Status: Greek freaking
37-45 last season
Key newcomers: Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard (draft)
Key departures: Marcus Morris
Outlook: Other than some improvement from Andre Drummond, Coach Stan Van Gundy has yet to work his magic with the Pistons. It is most likely a matter of personnel, and he will have an ally this season in Bradley, who the team was able to steal from the Celtics in exchange for fixing Boston’s “Gordon Hayward doesn’t fit under the salary cap” problem. In terms of defense and leadership, it is hard to get a bigger swing in one trade than going from the grumpy Morris to Bradley.
There are still a lot of problems to overcome. An offense centered around Drummond often falls apart for the same two reasons: The team does not have the shooters to take advantage of how much attention Drummond draws, and he is such a bad free-throw shooter that opponents can force him out of the game at will. A .500 season is potentially a stretch, but that would probably be good enough for the third-best record in the division.
Status: Stuck in the middle
42-40 last season
Key newcomers: Domantas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, Cory Joseph, Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, T.J. Leaf (draft)
Key departures: Paul George, Monta Ellis
Outlook: An optimist would say the Pacers were refocusing the team on a youth movement centered around Myles Turner. Oladipo, who is still only 25, fits that idea, and he got extra motivation from an unexpected trade away from Oklahoma City. Sabonis and Leaf have size and potential, and Indiana was better off moving on without a disgruntled George.
Everyone else would say that the team did not get nearly enough for George, one of the game’s finest two-way players, and that a huge regression is likely.
Status: Definitely maybe not tanking
41-41 last season
Key newcomers: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Justin Holiday, Lauri Markkanen (draft)
Key departures: Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Russ Bengtson (media)
Outlook: If you did not think the Pacers got much for Paul George, just take a look at what the Bulls got for Butler: an injured leaper in LaVine, a draft bust in Dunn and the rights to a draft pick. It speaks volumes about the Bulls that in official team capsules sent out by the league, which are generally filled with statistical superlatives, Chicago’s item simply mentions that Markkanen will be the N.B.A.’s second Finnish player. (The first was Hanno Mottola, who spent two seasons with Atlanta in the early 2000s.)
Maybe LaVine’s knee surgery will have restored him to full dunk-machine status. Maybe Dunn just needed a change of scenery. But even if both things are true, the team still seems worse. It was enough for Bengtson, a longtime fan of the Bulls who writes for Complex, to publicly break up with the team.
Status: Starting over
49-33 last season
Key newcomers: Jodie Meeks, Mike Scott
Key departures: Bojan Bogdanovic
Outlook: If the newcomers list seems rather short, that is likely a result of the Wizards spending $170 million on a contract extension for John Wall and matching a $106.5 million offer sheet for Otto Porter Jr. The commitment to a young and talented team was commendable, but it also limited Washington’s flexibility for other moves.
The good news is the Wizards, when healthy, do not need much more than they already have. Wall is capable of dominating like few other players in the N.B.A.; Bradley Beal and Porter are worthy sidekicks; and there is potentially a fourth amigo if Kelly Oubre Jr. can fulfill his potential.
Status: Waiting for a superteam to slip up
41-41 last season
Key newcomers: Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo (draft)
Key departures: Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts
Outlook: The Heat committing $52 million over four years to Dion Waiters might be the first deal in league history that was made to ensure N.B.A. League Pass viewership. Waiters, who not long ago was considered a draft bust in Cleveland, found a home in Miami and made himself a darling of Twitter by, among other things, hitting a game-winner against the Warriors (creating a heavily-shared GIF) and writing one of the greatest articles in the history of The Players’ Tribune.
The pieces are in place for the Heat to be a solid second-tier team, with a core of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow and Waiters.
Status: Preparing for GIFs
36-46 last season
Key newcomers: Michael Carter-Williams, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk (draft)
Key departures: Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee, Ramon Sessions
Outlook: The Hornets took a step back last season, finishing with 12 fewer wins than they had the season before and missing the playoffs. With improved play by Nicolas Batum and improved health for Cody Zeller, Charlotte is still probably headed for a major rebound, but Howard will get a lot of the credit if the Hornets stay above .500 for a long stretch, regardless of whether he is the reason.
If Carter-Williams lives up to his defensive potential, and a balance is found between keeping Kemba Walker on the court long enough to win and off it enough to stay healthy, Charlotte could certainly be a playoff team in the East.
Status: Hoping for medical luck
29-53 last season
Key newcomers: Jonathon Simmons, Marreese Speights, Arron Afflalo, Shelvin Mack, Jonathan Isaac (draft)
Key departures: Jeff Green
Outlook: Coach Frank Vogel’s team has the length and athleticism for him to build a tremendous defense, but he will have to unlock a lot of unrealized talent in Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton to get them to the point where they are fully complementing Simmons and Evan Fournier.
The Magic seem to understand that they have a long way to go to be truly competitive, but bringing in veterans to work with their younger players is at least a step in the right direction.
43-39 last season
Key newcomers: Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli, John Collins (draft)
Key departures: Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Outlook: The Hawks have been in the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons, but the All-Star-laden team of a few years ago has been reduced to Dennis Schröder and not much else worth mentioning. General Manager Travis Schlenk was brought over from the Warriors to facilitate the rebuilding process, and he let Millsap and Hardaway leave as free agents. Schlenk’s pragmatic approach was perhaps never more apparent than when he traded away Howard, last year’s free-agent prize, for spare parts. Collins is an intriguing draft pick and should get plenty of playing time.